What can I do on the daily 40 minute commute to/from work (via train)?
May 8, 2007 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What can I do on the daily 40 minute commute to/from work (via train)?

Hi All.

Well, I've recently moved and, because of this, I now have a 40 minute commute every morning and every afternoon. Those of you that have read my posting history will most likely find this somewhat hilarious! I guess in the end though, it is about lifestyle and we much prefer where we are now.

Anyway, because I've lengthened my commute, I'm looking for suggestions on things to do! Here's a list of what I do and don't have:

- Do Have -
Macbook Laptop
PocketPC PDA/Phone
Bluetooth Headphones
Gameboy Advance SP
An MBA I'm currently studying for

- Don't Have -
Reliable Internet (I've tried with my PocketPC and it's on and off all the way down the line)

Currently, I listen to music on my headphones via my phone, play my Gameboy, study for my courses and occasional watch a movie on my PDA, but all of these are pretty standard boring stuff.

So, I'm looking to MeFi to give me some creative ideas for (mentally) shortening the commute. These can either be manual (buy a Sudoku book) or use the technology (download xyz, load it on your laptop). I'm sure if I just stick with what I've got I'm going to be bored by next week!

Thanks all!
posted by ranglin to Travel & Transportation (43 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Audiobooks! Nice because you don't have to concentrate on reading a shaky screen
posted by pantsrobot at 5:28 PM on May 8, 2007

Keep a diary, even on paper rather than the laptop. Document the previous day and any thoughts that strike you during that boring 40 minutes.
posted by fire&wings at 5:31 PM on May 8, 2007

I really like podcasts. Especially NPR podcasts.
posted by kdar at 5:34 PM on May 8, 2007

Bill Clinton's crossword puzzle.
posted by caddis at 5:36 PM on May 8, 2007

A library card! And a whole bunch of books. With 80 minutes a day, I bet you could easily burn through a dozen each month, especially since you will get swept up in them and start reading them in your spare time! Reading on the bus has made me actually look forward to my commute. AskMe abounds with book recommendation threads.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:37 PM on May 8, 2007

Here are some book threads:
one, two, three, four

Or you can just look at the tag pages: books+ recommendation, or books + reading.

And also a podcast thread.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:46 PM on May 8, 2007

At least at my library, I can search their catalog online and put books on hold, which arrive at my local branch to be picked up. I think of the service sort of like Netflix - a universe of books, which come (close) to my door, at no charge. Whenever I see a book mentioned anywhere that I think I would like, I go and put it on the hold list. Sometimes I'm wrong and I return it quickly (life's too short to read bad books), but mostly I go through an unending stream of books on all the subjects that interest me.

40 minutes each way is a lot of reading.
posted by jellicle at 5:46 PM on May 8, 2007

Knit! C'mon, men do it too.

REEEEAAAAD. Old school physical book style. Weekly magazines that you *have* to keep up with are good too. I've plowed through many a New Yorker and many a classic book I've been "meaning to read" on my commute.

Crosswords are surprisingly absorbing & effective at time-eating, and I really enjoy the learning of weird little facts while doing them (rather than the ubiquitous Sudoku, which is brain exercise but not so much with the clever trivia).

Pimsleur or other audio language lessons on the mp3 player.
posted by tigerbelly at 5:46 PM on May 8, 2007

Audiobooks + knitting make my commute much more pleasant.
posted by Lucinda at 5:47 PM on May 8, 2007

learn a new language via audio book or podcast
posted by kanemano at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2007

Response by poster: I thought about learning a new language, but most of the language tapes/cd's I've seen want you to repeat after them, which I would feel a bit foolish doing! :)
posted by ranglin at 5:53 PM on May 8, 2007

Seconding podcasts. They are a godsend.

Check out the excellent podcasts of fellow MeFite Jesse Thorn [iTunes link] [website]. There are serious interviews on "The Sound of Young America" and general asshattery on "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" Other fun stuff there, too.

I also enjoy the This Week in Tech podcasts [iTunes link][website].

Anyway, definitely have a look around iTunes for podcasts if you haven't already.
posted by veggieboy at 5:53 PM on May 8, 2007

Try drawing. I'm currently learning to draw faces by sketching some of my fellow commuters on my 25 min train ride every day.

There are plenty of free drawing lessons online (my favorite) and all you need to get started is a pencil and a pad of paper.
posted by willie11 at 5:54 PM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Podcasts. In addition to the NPR stuff, which is excellent, be sure to check out the BBC site for a more global take on the news, and I love the CBC's 'Quirks and Quarks' science show.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:14 PM on May 8, 2007

Thirding the knitting. Men who knit are hot.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:39 PM on May 8, 2007

Learn a language. Chinesepod offers a free mp3 lesson each day. Each lesson is about 10 or 15 minutes.

Laugh it up. Keith and The Girl is a daily podcast in the 'adult humor' vein.

On The Media and Speaking of Faith are two of my favorite NPR podcasts.
posted by geekyguy at 6:47 PM on May 8, 2007

Wow great ideas here! Agreeing with the diary suggestion, the first thing I think of is "write." You seem like a creative person. We all have stories floating around in our heads and souls. But once we get out of school and are not required to write anymore, many of us stop. Make it an assignment.

This was brought home to me a couple weeks ago when I went to a training session for work. Two days of the session were dedicated to writing. On the last day, we were required to write a 3 page story, using the methods we learned the day before. We had 3 hours. With a deadline looming, and a method fresh in mind, I surprised myself by writing a paper I (and the instructors) really liked! Now I am trying to require myself to write more.

Write stories from your life. Write about what you see on the train. Speculate about other passengers. Make up stories about them. Use the Mac or a hand written journal but I recommend hand writing. It avoids the temptation to edit as you go, which will bog you down. Get a nice pen and journal that FEELS good to write with.

Maybe we will see your book at B&N in a couple years. The Train Diaries.
posted by The Deej at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2007

I used to have a similar train ride to work too. It's not very original, but I ordered stuff from the library and read a LOT. Very few grownups have the luxury of 80 minutes a day to invest in books and dip in and out of fiction, non-fiction, instructional books, comic books, travel guides, the works as they please. I also worked on my Bengali vocabulary flash cards for a while. I subscribed to newspapers from my home country and read them cover to cover. I wrote cheques and stamped and enveloped my bills. I read print outs of web articles I never had the chance to read at work.

But basically if you're doing anything other than frantically working your blackberry you're ahead of the game.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:07 PM on May 8, 2007

I'm another one in the 'knitting and audiobooks/podcasts' camp. With 40 minutes each way, you could easily make a pair of socks a week, or a simple scarf or hat almost daily. Just like that, all your holiday gift-giving needs are covered! (And okay, you're in Sydney so don't really nead heavyweight stuff, but everyone likes a decorative scarf, right?)
posted by meghanmiller at 7:11 PM on May 8, 2007

I have 2 hours each way three days a week.
I nap for an hour in the morning, and either read or listen to a BBC or This American Life podcast for the other hour.
Occasionally I work if I have a document to write, where the uninterrupted time is great.
In the afternoons I usually do some work that produces something tangible, for example, I write out the minutes of a regular meeting that runs to a few pages. I feel no shame in leaving the office at 4:55pm to catch the early train when I circulate this later that night at 8pm.
The other hour I try and do some learning. I spent a couple of years doing post-grad stuff, but am over that. Currently, I have a WAMP server setup on my laptop and I am learning some PHP programming.
Oh, and I wasted a good few weeks playing Advanced Wars 1 & 2 on the GBA - highly recommended, but I found myself nearly missing, and once missing my stop.
Looking at your profile I guess you have moved, but one tip is to take the country trains from Central if your destination is one of the major stops.
They are roomier, you almost always get a seat and they are all air conditioned.
posted by bystander at 7:20 PM on May 8, 2007

If you do decide to try knitting, check out Sticks and String. It's a podcast by a guy in the Blue Mountains who commutes into the city every day... and therefore has a lot of time to knit!

(PS - I can teach you at the next MeFi meetup, if you turn up.)
posted by web-goddess at 7:28 PM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, man. I miss commuting on the train because I *read* when I'm on the train. For me, that's what the train is good for. :) (As opposed to a driving commute, when listening to stuff is the only way to keep it from being a total waste of time.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:55 PM on May 8, 2007

Hand puppets. Seriously.
Have them involved in very intense discussion about banal things.
You be the wise moderator.
It's the most fun you can have among strangers for 40 minutes.
Now I have to drive to work, and the commute just isn't the same.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:27 PM on May 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

If I commuted, and had a laptop, I'd very likely install one of the Civilization games - nothing seems to pass the time as well as the Civ games. I'd also try and listen to some audiobooks, or music, or language lessons at the same time.

When I wasn't in the mood for Civ, I'd read.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:28 PM on May 8, 2007

Another podcasts + knitting fan here. I generally get a pair of socks, or a scarf, finished about every two weeks; the surplus scarves go to friends, but one can never have enough handknitted socks. I second the recommendation of Sticks and String, and also suggest podcasts from the BBC World Service and some of the ABC Radio National ones (I'm a fan of Ockham's Razor and All In the Mind).
posted by andraste at 8:34 PM on May 8, 2007

Sell the GBA to a neighbor kid, and get yourself a DS Lite . Then get Brain Age and/or Big Brain Academy. And some of the other kick-ass games like New Super Mario Bros. Time will fly.
posted by radioamy at 8:36 PM on May 8, 2007

I do chess puzzles. It's engaging like crosswords or sudoku, except it builds skill in a tangible way. You could consider picking up chess, go, scrabble -- some game like that were you can work on it as solitaire.
posted by cotterpin at 8:50 PM on May 8, 2007

I just recently started a similar commute - I read a lot now. You could probably knock out the books from this thread in a day or two each. It's a great feeling to me to get through a book that quickly, especially if its one I enjoy.
posted by chriswarren at 8:53 PM on May 8, 2007

The Teaching Company.

Buy a lecture course that's on sale and learn something completely different. And the lectures for most courses are 30 minutes long so that makes half an hour of learning and 10 minutes of rocking out per journey (I do a 40 minute commute too).
posted by forallmankind at 9:36 PM on May 8, 2007

Knitting, again :) Or any small needlecraft - embroidery, tatting, crochet are all options I see daily (in brisbane) on the train. Occasionally with ipods/music players for the hip young things.

I miss my 30min train ride every day - no more knitting for me :(
posted by ysabet at 9:44 PM on May 8, 2007

Do cryptic crosswords. You'll feel like a god when you finish one.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:13 PM on May 8, 2007

Final Fantasy VI
Chrono Trigger
Secret of Mana
the list goes on.....
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:32 PM on May 8, 2007

I do podcast and Solitaire on my Palm.

Mmm... Freeverse games for Mac.

Learn to play poker?. I love that poker app. Very much worth the money.

Solitaire is brain easy for podcast in the background, though.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:33 PM on May 8, 2007

Man, reading on Sydney trains? I'm lucky to get a seat. Seriouly, words can't express my loathing for cityrail...
posted by claudius at 5:05 AM on May 9, 2007


I had a ~50 min (each way) commute for a little while, and I read or stared out the window a lot. Maybe you could learn the magic commuter-trick of zoning out/falling asleep and getting up right as your stop appears.

I would guess that everything else would end up boring after enough of it.

Make up life stories for everyone else on the train!
posted by that girl at 5:41 AM on May 9, 2007

Oh yeah, read. I chug through library books like crazy. Had to drive in a few days this week and the hardest part was withdrawl from reading time.

I tried the writing thing for awhile and that was cool, too. I understand that Scott Turow wrote his first big novel, longhand, entirely on his commute.

Best of all, wallow in the fact that you're not part of the anger that just seems to permeate the roads today.
posted by lpsguy at 5:48 AM on May 9, 2007

I wish I had 80 min each day set aside. Read the newspaper, study, listen to podcasts. You'll be amazed at all you can get done.
posted by cahlers at 7:19 AM on May 9, 2007

I find it difficult to focus on real books during my commute. Of course, this is the NYC subway system, with five strangers jammed into your personal space before you've had your first coffee.

But if you can manage books on your commute, power to you.

Sometimes, I'll print out stories that I find in my bloglines feeds and read them. That kind of brief, concentrated prose is easier to handle while holding on to a pole and swaying back and forth.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: claudius: I catch the train from Hornsby, which is the first stop on the line for the trip to central, hence I always get a seat in the morning. In the afternoon, I've already discovered what bystander suggests, which is that if I catch the Gosford/Wyong train, it's usually less busy and more likely I can get a seat (and it's faster too because it doesn't stop at every stop!).

As a derail, does anywhere know where Hornsby library is? Not near the train station by any chance!?! :)
posted by ranglin at 4:21 PM on May 9, 2007

You might consider joining Sydney City Library. It is $12 per annum for non-local residents.
I am toying with it, as it would double my library options. The have branches at Haymarket and Town Hall.
posted by bystander at 6:27 PM on May 9, 2007

there's a software called AvantGo connect which you can use to automatically save webpages daily for offline viewing.
But that might be only for the PC, you might need to find a Mac alternative. Can't help you with that, I only carry an old Handheld PC around while I travel, on which I do mainly typing and some coding.
posted by spacefire at 6:54 AM on May 10, 2007

there's a software called AvantGo connect which you can use to automatically save webpages daily for offline viewing.

ha, i just came in this thread to recommend AvantGo. You don't need a mac version, you should be able to install it directly on your PDA.

I have it on my Motorola Q, and I 'refresh' my feeds before the BART goes under the bay, so I can read news for the approx 5-10 minutes without internet.

Of course, if I had a 40 minute commute, I'd probably just slap down the 50 cents to get a newspaper.
posted by fishfucker at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2007

Someone already mentioned drawing but sometimes it is extra fun to draw something specifically for someone. I'll often make postcards for people and draw the fronts and then send them. It's fun!
posted by austinlee at 9:45 PM on May 10, 2007

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